This year, Paris will need the spirit of the holidays more than ever, which is why I decided to highlight what makes Christmas in Paris more magical than any other city in the world. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in the City of Lights last year and got to see the city decked out for Christmas. I probably went to at least four holiday markets and sipped my fair share of hot mulled wine while traversing the cobbled streets and wide avenues of arrondissements I haven’t explore before. Should you find yourself planning a stay in Paris, here are seven tips on how to celebrate Christmas in Paris.
How to Celebrate Christmas in Paris
Go to Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral has considerably shorter lines in winter than there is during the summer and Christmas in Paris will not be the same without visiting this iconic Gothic cathedral. Not only is it the place to hear midnight mass, with choral singers, its bells, and its massive organ reverberating along its massive walls, it also has a stunning Christmas tree all lit up just outside its front entrance. Once inside, make sure you stop by the colorful manger display that shows the birth of Jesus and the visit made by the Three Wise Men.
Walk along the banks of the Seine at night while sipping hot mulled wine
Taking a stroll along the banks of the Seine is great anytime of the year but it’s certainly better with a cup of hot mulled wine to warm you up on a cold December night. You’ll get to see plenty of twinkling lights, including that of the Eiffel Tower itself. You might even hear faint caroling from one of the many Christmas markets scattered around the nearby neighborhoods.
Eat some foie gras and oysters
Here in the United States, families indulge on traditional ham or beef tenderloin during Christmas dinner but in France, particularly in Paris, the French will serve foie gras and fresh oysters at the dinner table. These delicacies are often eaten with a nice glass of champagne. Try foie gras at Comptoir de la Gastronomie and oysters at Huitrerie Regis.
Head west to La Defense
The area west of the Eiffel Tower is hardly a tourist spot but the modern business-centric La Defense is worth the trek during the holiday season because it hosts the largest Christmas Market in Paris. There are over 350 stalls selling all sorts of food, candies, and trinkets, some of which are made by the sellers themselves. If the décor isn’t enough to put you in a holiday mood, the Christmas songs that play continuously in the background as you browse around for gifts might just do the trick.
Visit the smaller Christmas markets
There’s definitely more options at the larger Christmas markets like those at La Defense and Champs Elysees but sometimes they also feel a bit more commercialized. That’s where the smaller Christmas markets are at an advantage because they are often themed and offer shoppers highly customized artifacts. They are also more charming and can often lead you to unexpected surprises like a restaurant that’s all decked out for Christmas in Paris. The one at Montparnasse specializes on gourmet French food, while the one on Saint-Germain de Pres excels in wooden trinkets. You can expect to see lovely pieces of local art from chalets at the Marais.
Go ice-skating at L’Hotel de Ville or at Trocadero
A longstanding tradition anywhere in the world during the holiday season is to go ice-skating and when celebrating Christmas in Paris, there’s no better place to glide those skates than the picturesque Place L’Hotel de Ville. The Neo-Renaissance building that serves as the Paris City Hall transforms into a winter wonderland with a huge ice-skating rink that is capable of holding dozens of adults and children at the same time. Another great place, though significantly smaller, is the one at Trocadero. It’s considerably more crowded, understandably so because it has unobstructed views of the Eiffel Tower.
Check out the window displays
You’ve likely heard of the Christmas window displays in New York, made popular by the flagship department stores like Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf and Goodman, but in Paris, the scenes feel more intimate. That’s not to say that they are any less spectacular. In fact, boutique shops and big name labels like Louis Vuitton make such a big deal about their Christmas displays, they start planning them as early as spring. The best ones are on Champs Elysees, Rue di Rivoli in the Marais District, and Avenue Montaigne.